Monday, July 14, 2008

Emotional Eating and World Turmoil

What does emotional overeating have to do with turmoil in our world? Answer: a lot!

Most of us have instant replays in our mind and hearts when we hear words like “9/11”, tsunami, Katrina, Iraq, earthquakes, fires and floods. When our ears hear the words and our eyes view the pictures, our whole being reacts. Emotions instantly surface and we may flood with an array of feelings. We may feel frightened for others as well as for ourselves -- unsafe, helpless, furious, overwhelmed, or sad, to name just a few possible reactions. We may feel relieved that we have survived and at the same time feel guilty that we have survived while others have not. We may become depressed and anxious and not understand why.

As human beings we act and react. Part of us may try to actively suppress or deny our uncomfortable feelings while another part of us may be reacting to the news by grieving or feeling angry. There is no one right way to react or to feel. When we are experiencing intense emotions, some that we understand and some that we may not understand, the end result is that we are in distress. Hearing of and witnessing the suffering of others causes stress and we may turn to unhealthy, old patterns in search of relief. We may seek food for comfort. Millions of us do!

This is a natural reaction, so please don’t beat yourself up if you have indulged in a few extra snacks lately. There is plenty of distressing news coming at you via the airwaves. We learn at a tender age that sugars and carbohydrates will take away our pain. These substances mask themselves as our friends. They urge us to take care of our uncomfortable feelings by stuffing our bellies with creamy pastas, pastries and chocolate. The hard part is that they deliver what they promise. These foods help us in the short term to stuff our feelings deep inside where we don’t have to deal with them.

When the effects of our “anesthetics” wear off, our physical bodies scream for MORE and our emotional selves (which haven’t yet recognized and experienced our emotions) join the chorus and demand more “treats” to continue keeping feelings at bay. Some of us may seek alcohol, sex, gambling or drugs to avoid the complex emotions of everyday life. We Chew Tamer’s may be more likely to prowl the bakery aisle at the grocery store or to use any combination of escape mechanisms.

Remember, your feelings exist for a reason. Each feeling is telling you something. Each is bringing you valuable information about what’s going on around and within you. Listen. Experience your feelings and let yourself feel every high and low that life brings your way. No one ever said that life meant experiencing only pleasant emotions. In fact, we need the difficult ones to appreciate the joyous ones.

If you do choose (and it is a choice, though it may not feel like one at the time) to soothe yourself with food, please don’t beat yourself up when you are done. That NEVER helps! None of us can walk our paths perfectly at all times. We are all human and we all make less than self-loving choices at times. Move beyond the urge to punish yourself. Recall that there are no mistakes, only lessons. Be as gentle as possible with yourself first. Then do what you realistically can to help others. Listen to them. Pray with them. Share hugs, warm smiles, resources and words of encouragement. These are the greatest gifts.

And remind yourself that life flies by. It is a blink of time. Amidst the stress and turmoil, tap into the peace and quiet strength within yourself. Bypass unhealthy choices as often as you can and don’t beat yourself if occasionally you can’t.

Most importantly, appreciate each moment of this exciting, emotional, and sometimes turbulent journey!

Be well…
Dr. Denise, Emotional Eating Expert

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